International Times is sending its acclaimed poet and essayist Niall McDevitt to review the play Shirleymander at the Playground Theatre in Latimer Road.
Shirleymander – written by radio dramatist Gregory Evans – was originally broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2009.
Porterloo – written by Niall McDevitt and published by International Times in 2013 – is a collection of anti-Conservative poems
responding to the return to power of the ‘Nasty Party’ in the Con-Dem coalition of 2010. Its preface ‘Insurgent Poetry’ was written by the legendary poet-anarchist Heathcote Williams who died in 2017.
Interestingly, both titles are portmanteaus, new words created by combining two or more words or elements of words. Shirleymander combines ‘Shirley’ with ‘gerrymandering’. Porterloo combines Dame Shirley’s surname with a popular synonym for ‘toilet’ to pun on Portaloo, Waterloo, Peterloo all in one.
The drama has been revived and rebooted into a fully fledged stageplay to be performed at West London’s newest theatre The Playground Theatre in Latimer Road.
Undoubtedly one of the raison d’êtres behind the production is to offer a pointed critique of Conservative local government as we approach the anniversary of the Grenfell tragedy. Though Shirley Porter was the leader of Westminster Council way back in the 1980s and will not be a familiar name to some of the Grenfell generation, the disgraced Tesco heiress is a never-to-be-forgotten symbol of Tory unfairness and corruption. It will not be difficult for contemporary audiences to spot the relevance of the drama. Those who are too young to remember her will be fascinated and horrified by the rise and fall of the ‘local Thatcher’ who began her career introducing pay-as-you-go toilets to a reluctant London..
That the play is to be performed close to the charged site of Grenfell Tower will add considerably to the frisson of the satire.
McDevitt, who didn’t hear the play when it was originally broadcast but was aware of its existence, is delighted to be finally able to experience it. “I’m looking forward very much to seeing the show and taking in its message for today. When I published Porterloo, some people suggested to me that I should have opted for a more topical motif. But it had to be Shirley! Along with Wandsworth Council, the Westminster Council under Porter was one of the great pioneers of social cleansing, asset-strippng and gerrymandering. By looking back to a politician who has been criminalised, stripped of her Dame-hood, fined 12m, and effectively banished from the public arena, it taunts her Tory successors with the possibility that they too will be brought to justice for continuing her and their crimes against humanity – nationally and locally – under the Cameron and May governments.”
Shirleymander is running from 23 May to 16 June. International Times will publish its review next week.